"Think you've got the perfect life?" asks the tagline from Sleeping Dogs. Brenda Gottsche's latest play asks Leo this very question as he tries to escape from his past whilst trying to avoid destroying his family's present and maintain his status as a successful crime writer.
The basic premise of the story is an intriguing one, but both the writing and performances never quite thrill us as much as our lead character's novels do.
Some interesting moments engage us early on in the scenes between Leo (Edmund Dehn) and his Christian-rocker son Alex (Joel Dyer). They share some entertaining exchanges as an awkward father tries to broach the subject of his son's sexuality as he paints his nails for an upcoming gig. Joel Dyer's convincingly camp Alex makes us sympathise with a father who has the truth staring him in the face but somehow can't quite say the right thing.
As the story continues we meet Andy, a blast from the past chirpily played by Andrew William Robb who jeopardises Leo and his wife Roz's (Barbara Hatwell) happy existence. For a character who essentially blackmails Leo for thousands of pounds he sadly lacks the callous, manipulative edge which would stir up some tension in what amounts to many stagnant scenes.
We learn of Roz's career as a sexual health consultant fronting a successful radio programme through the medium of voiceover, which establishes it nicely. However we go on to spend half the evening in darkness as we hear lengthy call after call from her radio show, which turns a play with radio in it into a radio play. Roz's character lacks the oozing confidence one might expect, and for someone deemed a sexual health consultant we bizarrely never hear her advise anyone on the matter - despite her son claiming that it's all her and Leo talk about.
Many of the scenes feel over-written and staged two dimensionally with characters sat inactively facing one direction, missing out two of the three sides in the thrust-shaped theatre. With Roz's funeral speeches opening both acts of the piece we learn far too much exposition early on for there to be many unexpected twists in the story. The revelations lack gravitas leaving moments of high drama sinking rather than soaring in the intimate space.
The storyline feels muddled, and the most dramatic moment relies on technical trickery to create tension rather than the dialogue and performances. The intriguing story of the son is all but sidelined in the second act and when we arrive at the climactic funeral scene we have no sense of journey from the preceding two-and-a-bit hours of narrative. With some injection of pace and clarity, Sleeping Dogs could show a bit of pedigree, but sadly at present the piece is more of a mundane mutt.